What is Spiritual Awakening?

This post is in dedication to my friend Teshe, who slipped me a note this past week with the following question scrawled on it:

What is spiritual awakening?

I contemplated the question, and further contemplated it after my Friday night philosophy session for yoga teacher training. I don’t have a certain answer for you, Teshe, nor have I become “spiritually awakened,” so I cannot speak from experience. What I can say is that I am inching towards spiritual awakening, bit by bit, with my yoga practice. The ultimate goal of yoga practice is Self-Realization; so very few people actually achieve Self-Realization and, from what I have learned thus far, it would be a great hinderance to practice yoga with an attachment to the outcome. Simply practicing to practice, to better know the Self, to learn and experience, to find peace, to free oneself from suffering…that is the journey. And, while I imagine Self-Realization is a state of bliss unimaginable by the average practitioner, the journey of one’s yoga practice is a beautiful gift, even if one stops with Abhyasa and Vairagya (practicing non-attachment) and practices them for the rest of their days. I mean, isn’t life about the journey rather than the destination anyway?

So, that being said, I believe spiritual awakening is attained by deep, dedicated, consistent contemplation and study of the mind. I look forward to how my perception of this will morph, over the years, as my practice evolves. I am fascinated by the process. I have had glimpses of spiritual awakening, moments that were filled with divine understanding of my Self, intoxicating clarity and peace. My teacher calls these “tastes” or “teasers.” She used the analogy last night in philosophy of trying to get a radio station to come in clear when driving down the 5! Is that not the best analogy?! Static, mostly, oh so much static; but then, just for a moment, oh there’s something…oh it’s so clear…and then it’s gone, back to static. Self-Realization is the clearest station of them all, I imagine, one that becomes unaffected by the existence of static. Static will always exist, but a Self-Realized mind learns to tune it out. The practice that we dedicate ourselves to day in and day out works to tune out the static.

Those “tastes,” if you will, are what fuel us. They fuel our practice. They stimulate Smrti, or memory, which is a huge component of the yoga practice. Remembering to practice, remembering the keys of the practice, remembering that you want to practice, that you love to practice…these tastes stay with us, it is what keeps us at it, practicing diligently everyday. It’s what keeps us observing the mind, meditating, contemplating, practicing asana, studying…

This is the path that leads to spiritual awakening and I don’t believe spiritual awakening is the destination, but rather the journey. 

So, Teshe, I suppose my answer is that spiritual awakening can be attained through several modes. Devotion to a higher being, as depicted in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.23, is one means. The divine yoga practice is another. If “keen and intent,” as depicted in Sutra 1.21, samadhi can be attained. Samadhi, sustained attention to some object or focus, can be attained through the diligent practice of these 5 Core Orientations (now I’m copying straight from my Teacher Training notes…):

  1. Faith (Sraddha)
  2. Strength/Energy (Virya)
  3. Memory (Smrti)
  4. Concentration/Focus (Samadhi)
  5. Discernment (Prajna)

There is a lot to be said on these five practices recommended for yogis seeking spiritual awakening, but in a sense they are fairly self-explanatory. Rather than going on, I will leave the list as it is and let you ponder, on your own, the depth of each practice. Please feel free to comment in the comment section with thoughts, I’d love to open this up to discussion.

What is spiritual awakening in your opinion?

 

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Faith: Uncertainty’s Kryptonite

I heard a song in the car the other morning on my drive to work and was surprised at how strongly I reacted to it. I recently discovered, thanks to my awesome roommate, that there is a not-so-local country station that manages to come in fairly clear in our area. I was elated and,   needless to say, hae been listening to this station ever since.

So the other morning a new love song came on; new to me, that is. I’m still playing catch up with the new country since I haven’t had local country radio for some time now. 

The chorus is what really shook me. 

“This life would kill me If I didn’t have you
I couldn’t live without you baby
I wouldn’t want to
If you didn’t love me so much
I’d never make it through
‘Cause this life would kill me
This life would kill me if I didn’t have you.”

My reaction also stands out to me: I will never feel that way again.

I didn’t say this to myself in a melancholy, “Le sigh…I won’t even have the opportunity to feel that away again way.” Rather it was more along the lines of, “I refuse to ever feel that way again.”

It was a defiant, “I’ve been through too much to ever feel that way again.” It was thought with certainty. I sort of did a double take at myself, a little “boing” bug-eyed what the heck thing with myself. I was shocked that I, ordinarily so girlie and a hopeless romantic, would have such a reaction. I was shocked that I wouldn’t want to feel that way again.

Disclaimer: I love Thompson Square. I love that they’re such a sweet, in love, talented duo. I love their music. 

I find this whole situation to be less about wanting, and more about capability. I’m simply not capable of desiring, or even believing in, that right now. I grew so much through the heartbreak of my last relationship, one in which I was disgustingly co-dependant and needy, that I could never be the kind of person ever again to be “completed” by another person. My mom said to me, “Your partner should compliment you, not complete you,” when I was with my ex. I understood but didn’t feel that way. I felt like he completed me; like without him I was only a half, not a whole.

Gross. I will never feel that way again.

Maybe I won’t always be grossed out by what society has made into such a romantic notion, but I certainly doubt I’ll ever feel it again. I am becoming more and more of an independent woman as the days pass. While I look forward to a wonderful man someday coming into my life and complimenting it, I can’t help but wonder – have I grown too protective, dare I even utter the word “cynical,” for a balance of love and independence?

My answer right off the bat is no. No of course not. I haven’t a cynical bone in my body by nature, but I definitely am getting a taste of cynicism with these feelings I have right now. 

It’s the lyrics resonating with me based on my [recent] experience that have provoked this essay. My ‘tude in response to the beautiful song tell me this: I am not ready for, interested in, or capable of a relationship at this space in my life. I am not even responding to ooey gooey romance right now! What the what?! I am a romantic, to the core, and I get the “flutteries” when I see precious couples out in the world, on the day-to-day; but I am feeling a bit distrusting of the whole “till death do us part.” I know, I know. The romantic inside me cringes as I type.

I am a child of divorced parents, albeit the cleanest most respectful divorce in the history of divorces (I’ve said to my parents that I think they truly kept their vows…supporting, loving and helping one another through thick and thin). I know people whose marriages are falling apart currently. I know people who are happily married, couples I could never fathom getting divorced; who could never fathom themselves getting divorced.

Is marriage really reasonable for every person? I’ve heard countless people say monogamy is unrealistic. It makes my stomach turn hearing that. I want to get married. I want to be loved unconditionally forever, for the rest of my life, by a man who compliments me perfectly and who brings such light to my life that I couldn’t imagine him not in it. I want that, someday. But I see so few people lasting “forever” on that beautiful journey. Both sets of my grandparents were married till one of them passed away. One set was married 70 years and the other 50. I think it says something about the generation, the dedication to a commitment and a vow that now lacks amongst my peers. I think it also says it is possible. More than anything, though, it says to me choose wisely.

I dream of getting married and having it last forever. But how can it not be scary when I have friends whose marriages are on the rocks, or ending, and who are facing the situation as one would any break-up. I mean, what else are they supposed to do? I’m just still unmarried, probably quite naive, and romantic to a fault, so I can’t exactly comprehend. I expect such a tragedy to be faced with the distress of someone who believes this person is their other half, that they can’t live without them, that “this life would kill them if they didn’t have _____.” I find myself surprised that people are able to still breathe and exist despite something so harrowing occurring in their lives. I say all this with utmost non-judgement, as I have literally NO way of placing myself in anyone else’s shoes, much less in a marital situation.

I think it’s movies and song lyrics that have me convinced that marriage ending is as bad as death. I’m sure some people face divorce this way; but is that a good thing? I don’t think so. Is it proof of true love to not be capable of disentangling one’s life from the life of one’s spouse or partner? I don’t think so. 

I have friends, who I adore and respect, attributing marital problems and infidelity to things like their wife’s body not recovering quickly or well from childbirth and things not being quite the same after that, the two of them starting to view one another differently within in their spousal roles, so on and so forth. Retold events that, while I totally remain non-judging and loving in my role as a listening friend, I can’t help but be terrified by. I can’t help but hear it and think to myself, Oh dear God this could happen with my own future husband…I don’t know if I could face such uncertainty…

I don’t know if I could face such uncertainty. 

I just said that. But how could that be? Isn’t all of life uncertain? I can stomach my distaste for codependence and “I can’t breathe or live without you” love, but I can’t stomach fear of uncertainty. LIFE IS UNCERTAIN! That, too, scares the bejeezus out of me. It does. Uncertainty, unpredictability, risk…my great foe. Aha, I’ve finally unlocked the mystery…

Uncertainty is my kryptonite. 

But I want marriage, I want to fall in love, I want adventure and surprise and intrigue in my life. I want to love with all my heart. I just never want to be so reliant on a love that, if God forbid it ended, I weren’t left a whole person. Devastated, yes, but whole. Standing on two feet. Able to see through the clouds. I think being rooted in one’s own identity and only feeling reliant on one’s own Self love to “make it through” is the ultimate protection, an ultimate achievement of Self. I by no means mean protection in the sense of entering a marriage halfheartedly with one’s guard up; no, not at all. I mean as an act of Self preservation in life. Because, ultimately, we don’t have control over what happens. We have some control in our lives but the rest just happens, and it is our responsibility to make ourselves into the most stable, secure, cared for beings we can.

Uncertainty is my kryptonite. But it won’t always be. Of that I am certain. In my quest to become my most stable, secured, cared for Self, my discomfort with uncertainty will have to be faced. Conquered. It will have to be faced and conquered before I enter a serious relationship. In the meantime, fortifying that relationship with myself is what I have been doing and is what I will continue to do. 

It’s a relief to get this all worked out, and perhaps you’ve even identified a kryptonite of your own in the process of reading this. I know that I will continue to turn up the volume of my country radio, sing along, and now bask in the clarity of my feelings and reactions towards certain lyrics.

Ironically, just before publishing this essay, I came across a Huff Post piece that moved me to tears. A love so pure and strong, the friendship that bred such a love, a husband’s photo essay of his wife’s battle with breast cancer. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/breast-cancer-photo-essay_n_2964610.html#slide=2279459

Life is uncertain. It is uncertain as hell. But it can be so damn beautiful if we step away from fear. Uncertainty will be there, always; it will be looming in the corner, or overhead if we let it, and it could gobble us up whole if we let it do that, too.

We mustn’t.

I mustn’t.

Have faith. Faith is uncertainty’s kryptonite.

Have faith that life is beautiful and that it will continue to be beautiful. Have faith that life will be quirky and hilarious and terrifying and uncertain. Accept the uncertainty and douse it with faith. Have faith that, no matter who may come and go in your life, you will always love yourself enough to make it through.

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”

-Rabindranath Tagore

 

 

 

 

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Cleansing and the Power of Visualization

It’s kind of surreal how I’ve been feeling lately. So much change has occurred in my life in the past month, in the past few months in fact, and yet I feel strangely…calm. Uncharacteristically calm. Dare I say centered?

I never thought I’d see the day when I began to feel comfortable in change. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did my fair share of freaking out. Last weekend at teacher training I flippantly told my friends,

“Yeah, had I had longer to digest the whole moving process I’d have really freaked out.” My closest girlfriend of the group guffawed.
“Oh, you freaked out.”

She was definitely right. I was right too, though, in that I’d have really freaked out given more time.  That type of reactiveness doesn’t serve me. I was going to say “doesn’t serve me anymore,” but “anymore” isn’t really appropriate. It never served me. Being reactive only builds tension, angst, nervous energy. It is a lesson, a reminder to work towards an overall sense of calm. Practicing non-attachment is certainly one means of achieving this peaceful disposition. I’ve written before about shifting our inherent nature; not succumbing to “the way we’ve always been;” taking control of our nature and growing, evolving, shifting towards a more positive disposition rather than surrendering to how we are on “autopilot.”

I digress.

It would be nice to have felt centered throughout the transition, but that is something towards which to work.

Despite feeling grounded and centered in my new environment, despite feeling happy and content, I’ve had anxious energy the past few days. I don’t know why; perhaps I am in need of a gentle spring cleansing emotionally as well as physically.

I’m planning a gentle, whole foods, cleaner-than-usual detoxification plan for the coming ten days or so. Simply resetting the system for spring, embracing Ayurvedic tools, incorporating lots of green juices in with my healthy, wholesome meals and nourishing teas as well. I look forward to it. Many people cleanse to detoxify their bodies from harsh lifestyles that are chemical ridden; I live a clean lifestyle as it is, so the cleanse is more of a reset for me, an “easing in” for my body to the new season. Maintaining healthy weight and fitness is eighty percent nutrition, twenty percent physical activity. We can easily assist our physical bodies through change of seasons, changes such as moving, stresses that accompany change and the like through beneficial choices nutritionally.

But what about the mind? The spirit? I think is imperative to accompany either a physical cleanse or changes in life with a holistic “reset” cleanse/detox.

Stress is toxic. So if you’ve had a lot of stress recently (like I did with my big move) a gentle detox could prove very beneficial. But then what do we do to compliment this cleanse spiritually and mentally? My personal answer is yoga. I’m not referring to just asana. Yes, asana is a big part of it. But the practice in controlling the mind is the biggest part of it. Many of you also practice yoga, so you understand. But I was a bit surprised by the ensuing realizations that seemed to so deeply cleanse my spirit.

My nephew was born on the 17th. Spending the day with my close family this past Friday, meeting the newest addition to our clan, I was overcome (even more than usual) with the sensation of anticipation to someday move back to my home area.

I spent that night laying in bed visualizing my future. Manifesting, if you will. I know exactly the town I next intend to move, even though said move is about a year and a half away. I dozed off manifesting the life that I want to build there. I imagined a home with a bursting garden, tucked away in nature on the outskirts of this sweet town that I have always loved so much. I pictured myself freelance writing from home, teaching at a local yoga studio, walking my yellow lab. I visualized meeting someone someday who shares my same values, who lives the same kind of lifestyle that I do.

That part was particularly cleansing, as I experienced a fair amount of “letting go” of my past relationship when I moved, because I’d moved into that home and to the last town I lived in with high hopes of building a future with this person. I realize now that I spent an excessive amount of energy anxious over our differences, trying to make peace with the fact that I would have to make a lot of sacrifices to be happy with this person for life. Sacrifices of all sorts. It wasn’t that we weren’t deeply in love or good for one another, we were. It was that I did a lot of changing to fit into the relationship, while he did none. One person shouldn’t have to change for a relationship to continuing growing. In my little half asleep manifesting fantasy, I met a man who lived like I do. A man who, while different and his own person, fit with me. Who had complimentary priorities, values, lifestyle. I saw myself someday, years from now, having beautiful children; living close enough to my family for both my pregnancy and the births of my children to be closely supported by family and loved ones.

The visions were amazing. I firmly believe in manifesting our futures. My role model, Jennifer Pastiloff, leads manifestation retreats and workshops around the world. I’ve quoted the philosophies of The Secret since I was 16 years old. I’m not new to manifesting, to the power of visualization.

In yoga my teacher frequently talks about visualizing what we want the body to do, even when we are not physically moving. Visualization literally creates neural pathways in the brain! It’s no joke. So my fantasizing about the future really truly has the capacity to lead me down the path I hope to travel.

Having that little visualization seemed to offer me a really cleansing experience. I felt calm and centered afterwards, upon waking, and have been holding the image in the far corner of my mind. I feel very present and aware in this moment, while still fully dedicated to living out and manifesting that dream that I have in my future.

It’s unlike me to have a desire, a vision, that I want so deeply…and to feel patient about the whole scenario. I don’t feel rushed to get there. I feel like a year and a half is the perfect time to elapse before making such a transition. I know that a lot could change between now and then, but I feel strongly that the changes will all be beneficial. Positive growth leading me closer to my dream career, my deepest truth, my family. For one of the first times in a long time, I am overwhelmed with a sense of trust.

I trust that I will get there exactly when I am meant to and that, when I do, my quintessential life will unfold.

Regardless of how powerful my thoughts are and whether or not my visualization plays out as I want it to, I feel good. I feel trusting. I feel cleansed.

How powerful that the remedy for my anxious state came to me in such a state of half-sleep, inspired by a day bathed in familial love, and led me to wake with pristine clarity. Exactly the introspective cleansing I needed. Now my yoga practice and bodily seasonal cleanse can have the power to really reset my system, really improve my focus. Because I’ve cleaned out the gunk of confusion, of “what if,” of “what next?”

That question, “what next?” It holds us back. It trips us up. It confuses the heck out of us. Instead of just putting one foot in front of the other with awareness, we need the answer. What is next? Well, the truth is we never really know. We can plan all we want and plans change. So the idea is to get comfortable with change, I suppose, which takes constant practice. I think regular holistic cleansing is the key to staying comfortable with change, with the in betweens, with the unknown. Cleansing done by pranayama, meditation, yoga practice, journaling, time with family, spending time in nature, introspection, visualization…whatever resonates with you. Whatever stimulates deep clarity in you. I think it’s imperative especially if you’re going to participate in a dietary detox of any kind. I think it’s important to remain dedicated to ourselves holistically.

These little moments of clarity, these little “aha!” experiences…they are what enrich our human experience. They keep us hungering for human experience and seeking all things beautiful and divine out there in the world. They keep us aware. So visualize. Manifest. Dream up the life you want. It’s not silly, it’s not useless, it’s anything but. Harness the power of your own mind and create those neural pathways. Pave the road you wish to walk with the power of your thoughts, and let the beautiful gift of this human journey unfold before you.

 

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The Big 3

I’m in certainly no place to be “preaching” non-attachment. I have only just begun my own dedicated practice of Vairagya, which is non-attachment. I consider myself in the very early stages, which is a beautiful thing, and also a frustrating thing at times. I suppose it’s frustrating when I get overwhelmed with a myriad of “things” from which I’d like to detach…all at once! Possessions, thoughts, outcomes, people, preconceived notions, ideas, fears, insecurities, money, vanity…it can go on and on. So, how does one simply “break” ties with attachment?

One does not simply, is my initial response. With great practice, over extended time, and with pointed dedication, one hopes to. One may.

So, just for fun and in hopes of making the practice a bit gentler on all of our minds and spirits, I’m going to name three pillars with which to begin. I’m simply choosing these three for me, feel free to mix and match or stick in a realm of higher importance for yourself.

Let’s begin with three areas in which to practice (may I again emphasize practice…) Vairagya. You may think, oh just three? Three’s not hard. But they’re a big three. So, without further ado, here they are:

The Big 3

1. What Other People Think of You

It’s not out of the ordinary to be quite attached to what other people think of you. I’m attached to what people think of me. I just am. We just are. It’s our society. It’s ethnocentrism. It’s egocentrism. It’s become unconscious.

I challenge us to become conscious of the behavior that’s become unconscious. 

It’s the only way to create change; it’s the only way to heighten one’s own awareness; and it’s the only way to detach.

What other people think about you and how other people treat you, they’re in the same category. I’m not suggesting we all throw our hands up in the air and let people walk all over us. I’m by no means proposing we simply ignore it if someone meaningful in our lives begins to react to us or treat us differently; that is a sign of something, a sign that calls for inquiry. I’m simply referring to everyday interactions, primarily with strangers and acquaintances (although I do believe it would benefit one’s relationship with loved ones to practice non-attachment towards ordinary, possibly not-so-lovey-dovey incidents too).

Again, I’m not referring to big, important opinions of loved ones that deserve weighty consideration. Our loved ones care for us and want the best for us, so what they think does matter; it’s the little things, the nuances of human relationships, that are going to exist regardless of our reaction to them that can be let go.

Attaching to a stranger cutting you off on the freeway, not holding the door open for you, or acting brusquely towards you in line at the market is frankly no more or less warranted than attaching to a friend thinking you make poor fashion choices, your brother thinking it’s stupid that you’re vegetarian, or your boyfriend thinking you spoil your dog too much. People are going to think and do what they will; and you will think and do what you will. Wear that silly stuff, be vegetarian, spoil your dog, whatever. Do what makes you happy. Not everyone’s going to think you’re cool, or funny, or smart, or attractive, or wise. They just aren’t. It doesn’t mean you aren’t those things, and it doesn’t mean you should think yourself any less those things. We are, after all, neither our bodies nor our minds…so why should we attach to any of it anyhow?

2. Possessions

This one’s hard. I’m attached to my possessions. You probably are too. Not all of them, but I admit that the “what five belongings would you save if your house was on fire” is one of my least favorite questions. Since I was a child and first heard that question I thought, oh but how would I choose?! I recall being able to answer it with average ease, but struggling and growing a bit anxious at the thought. Now I wouldn’t even entertain the idea because I simply would give myself a headache. I don’t know, one of the seventeen journals I have saved since I began journaling nearly fifteen years ago? My precious jewelry? Photo albums? Can my entire hope chest, full of sacred things, count as one item? Le sigh.

Attachment.

I have two new bracelets from the yoga studio, a hemitite string of mala and a vegan “leather” buddha strap. I’m unreasonably excited to wear one or the other each day, and yet…I’m painfully aware that, at some point, they will become just “belongings.” Yes, I’ll still love them. Yes, they’ll still have meaning for me. But they’ll be normal parts of my collection of “things.” I’ll be used to them. They won’t be new, and therefore my craving for more newness will rise once more to the surface.

It’s a sick cycle, really!

I took nearly fifteen bags of stuff to goodwill when I moved. I recall nearly none of what I donated, save for the items peeking out the tops of the huge, bursting at the seems bags that I hauled off. A pink checkered coat that I bought at the mall two winters ago on sale at a store I would never ordinarily shop in. I bought it, and liked it. But every time I wore it all I remembered was me trying it on in the store and my ex telling me I shouldn’t have “worn those jeans with those boots.” They didn’t look good together. Boom. Negative connotation. Negative attachment. Throw. It. Away.

So I’ve learned that attachment to “things” can vary. It’s not always the I love this sooo much kind of attachment. Sometimes it’s a negative memory that replays each time something is looked at, used or worn.

Either way, stuff is just stuff. Without any of it, you’d still be you, and I’d still be me. I’m pretty intoxicated by my recent shedding of old junk, I just want to donate more…I want to have less…I want to live more simply. But even that, the notion of “living simply,” I’m attached to that! Oh how deep the concept runs…

I realized in my last yoga teacher training philosophy class, I’m addicted to attachment. Be it positive, negative, obsessive or anticipatory. I’m addicted. I’m constantly making notes, plans, attaching to the outcome of nearly everything. I dig my nails into old memories that cause me pain, masochistically dousing myself in the thick, inky sadness of a memory periodically. I let it stay, because it’s comfortable in its place, its place in my file of memories. I let it blacken me with angst each time it replays, coloring my view of a place, person and experience. Rather than placing that memory in the shredder, because it no longer deserves a home in my consciousness, I hold onto it. I’m afraid to let it go. What if I want to remember it again one day?

Attachment.

It’s okay to have “stuff.” It’s not a bad thing to have a jewelry box full of jewelry, a closet full of clothes, a kitchen full of appliances. It’s only a bad thing if happiness depends on these things. It’s really only a bad thing if, God forbid these things were lost somehow, identity would be splintered and disheveled.

Who we are has nothing to do with what we have. Things are simply ornaments. We must be careful to avoid the blinding light reflected by their glitter.

3. Your Body (the biggest of The Big 3)

Boom, shakalaka. Busted out the big guns for number three. This is my hardest one. You’re not your body, you’re not your mind. Totally, I think to myself every time I say it, I’m neither my body nor my mind. But if I were o pull on my jeans tomorrow morning and suddenly not be able to get them past my thighs…I’d have a total identity crisis.

It’s gross to admit. It’s disgusting and embarrassing, but hey, I admit it. I’m not there yet. I’ve not acquired a peaceful union with the “I’m not my body nor my mind” notion. I’m accepting and welcoming of it, but I’m not sold hook line and sinker just yet. It will take a lot of practice for me.

I’m attached to my physical appearance.

I don’t like it, and frankly I’m attached to the outcome of this practice. I wish to myself that I could always be happy in my life and in my physical body no matter what it looks like, and I feel calm and “with it” in those moments. But the truth is I’m attached. I hold myself to a whole different standard than I do other people. I love and admire others with practically no regard to their bodily appearance, their transient vessels. So why do I not offer myself the same standard?

I am a Soul. I’m not a body, I’m not a mind. The body and the mind compliment what I am, and that is a Soul. A thread of Awareness. A spirit. A divine cognizance.

The flatness of my stomach has nothing to do with my soul. The length of my hair has nothing to do with my thread of Awareness. The circumference of my thighs has nothing to do with my spirit. The size of my pants, bra and shoes have absolutely nothing to do with my divine cognizance.

I believe practicing non-attachment towards one’s own physical appearances would be the best recipe for youth, beauty and success around. How ironic, right?

The best serum, the best medicine, the best nourishment…is simply Vairagya. 

So let’s all heighten our awareness together. Let’s all dedicate to the practice of non-attachment. Begin by lighting a little fire beneath that awareness. Rub some sticks together beneath it, let the warmth and hint of smoke get things cooking. Marinate some ideas; you are neither your body, nor your mind. What others think of you is null. You would be exactly who you are with or without any of your possessions. You would also be exactly who you are regardless of how your body changed, aged or dulled physically. 

It’s a practice. A lifelong practice. One whose outcome we cannot predict, and oughtn’t try to predict. Simply practice. Simply be. Non-attachment. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Practice diligently, practice without attachment to the practice itself (tricky, I know). Let it be gradual. It must be gradual.

In non-attachment we awaken to our own subtle vibrations within the cosmic frequency. Tune into it. Non-attachment turns down the volume on all things unimportant. Tune in, and welcome the blissfully sweet sound of freedom.

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Maybe if there was no façade, if there was nothing to crack, things wouldn’t break…

Confessions of an Imperfect Life

Before we were dating, back when we were just friends, my ex once told me that I had “perfect skin”. I don’t remember how it came up as we were driving in my car, or what we could have been talking about that led to that lovely, albeit somewhat unbelievable, compliment. But it stays with me. At the time it was just one of those nice things that someone says that you don’t particularly agree with, but are happy to hear anyway. No, you deflect, no I don’t at all. But secretly you’re pleased. You want to believe it is true.

When we started dating a bit later, I remembered that passing comment, so insignificant at the time, but now, with the attached meaning that hindsight provides, hanging like a sort of albatross around my neck. He thought that I had perfect skin. What if he saw this…

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The Golden Ticket

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are changing my life.

Bold statement, right? I mean it. I mean it with every ounce of my being. I’m certain to my very core that my discovery of what the practice of yoga really is will be the thread that saves me from ever tumbling into despair. This human life can be ridden with despair if we are not protected; we’ve all experienced it. I feel now like I’m being given the tools to never fall into darkness ever again. I feel like I’ve been given an extraordinary gift. Better than any tangible gift I could ever conceive. And it’s only just the beginning.

Tonight’s yoga teacher training class was life changing. Well, actually, with every philosophy portion we have I leave feeling this way. Upon reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33, I felt a profound shift in my awareness. The idea of having four “keys” to four different locks, essentially four different ways to react to every kind of person…seems like the golden ticket to me. It seems like a saving grace, if you will.

Then tonight we went in depth with the principle of non-attachment. Just when I thought I’d found the golden ticket…what I’ve learned for certain is that the practice of yoga is saving my life. As human beings in human bodies, we are all “dying” each day. That’s a terribly morbid thing to say and, for a sensitive and death-fearing person like myself, it gives me the willies to even type it out. But it’s true. And, while the practice of yoga won’t give a person a free pass to escape death, it has the potential to eradicate fear of death and to make a lifetime of wonder, bliss and unfathomable joy.

How incredible is that?

When I refer to “the practice of yoga,” I am not talking asana. That’s something my teacher reminds us again and again. Nothing about the body is even mentioned in the first three sutras. These are the key sutras, the ones that, if you get them, the rest are not needed (in the words of my teacher). The sutras talk all about the mind. The only venue that will tell you “yoga is asana” is the American fitness world, my teacher says. Yoga is the practice of controlling the mind. It is a lifestyle, I scribbled into my notebook these gems of words tonight.

“The yogic lifestye is a just that – a lifestyle. It is 24/7, it is a way of life.”

Practicing yoga, being a yogi, is not having a closet full of cool yogi clothes. It’s not having the perfect string of mala. It’s not being vegan and eco-friendly. It’s not being able to contort into incredible asanas. It’s none of that. It. Is. NONE. Of. That.

Non-attachment is freedom from “craving for objects seen or heard.” Whether it’s one’s clothing, a deep desire to be with another person, an outcome, a possession…frankly anything one could possibly perceive…these are all attachments.

My teacher said, “We are attached in many, many, many ways.” By being attached to the outcome of events we suffer, because we envisioned a particular outcome. Or we convinced ourselves that we’d feel a certain way if “a” or “b” happened. “We can suffer enormously by being attached to things being, not being, becoming, not becoming a certain way,” my wise teacher explained.

We are so easily attached to that, and that is always changing. How unstable it is to be attached to that! How very much we are setting ourselves up for suffering by being attached willingly to that! The alternative is to practice, practice diligently, and just observe what happens…without attachment to the outcome.

Can you imagine being unattached from your physical appearance? Your car? Your home? The outcome of your performance in yoga class, at work, in school?

Think of how freeing it would be to remain unattached from all of these changing, uncontrollable, perceivable things! Imagine how incredible it would be to show up to yoga without an expectation of what the class would offer. I’ve shown up expecting a lot of work, ready to expend pent up energy, and have been slightly let down (okay, totally let down) by a more philosophy based asana practice, one that didn’t induce a sweat. It’s hard to admit, but many of us have shown up to the studio wanting a workout. Wanting to sweat and clear our minds through physical exhaustion, purging the stressors and offenders of our mind through meditative and challenging movement. The philosophy was lost on me in those times, needless to say. And think what I missed out on! If I were to have shown up unattached to how physically demanding the class would be (something I had absolutely no control over), might I have bathed in the serenity provided to me by a skilled teacher, sharing wisdom and philosophy and opening my mind? Clearing my mind that way instead? I’ll never know, because of attachment.

Non-attachment is a practice I will spend a lifetime dedicated to cultivating. It will not come easy, our modern society is not built to welcome this idea. Everything is “sold” to us, including yoga! Think about it; I have been “sold” yoga. My lululemon clothes, Manduka mat and Gaiam accessories can attest to that. But that’s not to say it is a failure, it’s not to say I must get rid of these things. I’m just saying that an overwhelming component of my practice is to be dedicated to detaching from material possessions and outcomes. Freedom from craving for objects seen or heard.

I mean it when I call it a lifelong practice. One whose outcome I will remain unattached to 🙂

I tell you, this practice is a golden ticket. The best part about this golden ticket? This exceptional gift that just keeps on giving? It’s available to EVERYONE. Yoga is free for the taking, obtainable for learning, existent for practicing. It is different for you than it is for me, and it is just as glorious.

Namaste ~

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Your Soul is Rooting For You.

We choose to see things a certain way. We do. It’s up to us. We create the tone of voice within our own heads. We create most of our experiences, and we create in entirety the filter through which we process these experiences. We don’t like to think this. We like to think everything happens “to” us. Some stuff does, it’s true. But much of what occurs in our lives occurs at our own hand, in a sense. The sense I mean is that our thoughts form our actions, our actions then form our habits. Our habits form our lives.

“Most things happen by habit in our lives,” Yoga Sutra 1.28.

If there’s one thing we can control, it’s our habits. Thoughts become actions, actions become habits. Control the mind.

I’m actively working on controlling my mind, everyday, every moment (practically). It’s a lot of work. But, as the Sutras continue on to say, anything we continuously do will become a habit. If we allow ourselves to be conditioned into thinking “negative negative negative,” we will manifest negativity. Oppositely, if we condition ourselves into thinking “positive positive positive,” we will become trained to see the positive. I’m reminded of my dear friend Jennifer Pastiloff’s “5 Most Beautiful Things Project.” We so frequently seek out the irritating, the incorrect, the offending. It’s unconscious. You know those people out in the world, the ones who stride into stores pissed off, already angry, seething on the inside just looking for something to blame their unhappiness on? Don’t we all loathe the influence these people have on us? These hard shelled, bitter, “something truly shitty must have happened to them to make them this way” people? Don’t we pity them? I do. 

We don’t want to mirror these people, for even a shred of an instant. We don’t want to perpetuate this unwarranted behavior. We want to cultivate enough radiating positivity within our own beings to treat these human flare ups of wretchedness, to stamp out the flames of such deep set despair. I do.

We begin the accumulation of this positivity in our very own minds. I sometimes become lazy, letting bad moods get the best of me, letting the grump factor permeate my internal monologue. Then I get down on myself for letting the negativity in, for letting that gloomy could block the rays of beneficial energy. Downward spiral. Other times I’m good, I take a deep breath and soften my face, the oxygen and gentle expression washing away my indignant riposte. These times strengthen me. They fortify my belief that the mind is all energy, that it can be regulated, that by regulating it I save my own soul.

Our minds control our realities. We determine the meaning that is awarded to everything in our lives. People, objects, our bodies, our experiences, everything. 

I saw someone the other day who I know from photographs and, by the look on her face when we locked eyes, knows mine by the same means. We’ve crossed paths a few times but have never met. While our connection is irrelevant, and frankly nonexistent, years ago her presence really bothered me. When I saw her yesterday I was not phased. I saw her as just a girl. Just a sweet, pretty girl whose life is no longer entangled with mine. 
There’s a mirror in my new house that makes me look fat. For an entire day, every time I saw it, I was disgusted. It’s a pretty mirror, hanging in a gorgeous, reflecting the room perfectly. But in it, I look like a cow. Vanity? Yes. Attachment? Yes. Shallow? Yes. Ridiculous? You bet. But it kind of ruined my afternoon, if I’m going to be perfectly honest. I had one of those “I feel fat and grumpy and useless” afternoons that, afterwards, make me feel like a shallow person who ought to have spent the afternoon counting her blessings. I would be happy to live in a world without mirrors.

I got rid of about fifteen bags worth of stuff when I moved. Clothes, books, accessories, furniture, toys, tools, you name it. I feel so much lighter. I still take up two closets in my new house; thank gosh I live with an easygoing, awesome guy. He lets my girliness and still-too-large wardrobe spill into the closet of the guest bedroom. I’ll continue to weed out the “I can live without this” stuff, as well as be mindful of future shopping (or lack thereof!) because this whole process taught me that my actual needs are quite minimal. Non-attachment. The notion is wonderful, but putting it into practice? Harder. As in not easy. As in many of us avoid putting it into practice at all. Just like I let half of the stuff I got rid of last week sit in my last room for three years. “It was expensive,” or, “I bought it in Italy,” or, “it was a gift,” keeping the items in my possession. I got rid of expensive things I never use, clothes from Italy that I haven’t worn in over a year, gifts that I’ve long since forgotten about and even fat pants. I don’t need any of those things. Especially the fat pants; I have no intention of ever needing fat pants! I mean that with utmost non-attachment 😉

My point is that deemed all those things important. That girl, this mirror, those bags of belongings. They’re all real, tangible, but their meaning is a figment of my own mentality. I decided their representation to me. When I realized that girl is just a girl and I viewed her with compassion and non-attachment, I felt free. When I gave away those bags of things I no longer used, I felt free. Realizing that a reflection morphed by the long, squat shape of a piece of glass is nothing more than a distortion…realizing that it is a distortion of a physical body that is transient anyway, realizing that the emphasis I place on how that physical body looks is something that I, again, created…that’s a feat. Especially for a girl, one in my generation and one with my history. But I’m working on it. I feel the same way about “skinny mirrors.” You know those mirrors that distort one’s reflection so it looks far more lithe than it actually does to the naked eye? We all love those mirrors, don’t even deny it. But, regardless of the distortion, the mind gets the final say. The mind gets to decide whether it’s realistic, unrealistic, important, meaningless, valuable, invaluable, sensible, absurd…isn’t that powerful? The trick is in learning to harness that. It’s in learning to look at person who elicits a negative response in you and say, “They’re just a person.” It’s in learning to gut a room of all things you don’t need and realize, “They’re just things.” It’s in learning to look at your reflection in a mirror and think, “That’s not who I am.” It’s not easy. I’m not able to do it without intense focus, but again, with practice…it can become habit. This I believe.

I want to seek out the beautiful things in life, like Jen Pastiloff suggests. I want to see people as people, not as representations of my own life or the emotions I’ve placed on them. Positive habit forming takes practice, we’re only human; but we have the capacity to be profoundly aware in our “only human” state. We have the capacity to, in time, change the way we view, interpret and react to life. 

Life is a balancing act. Some days the positivity flows, others the negativity creeps in. But I suppose what I’m working towards here is the idea that I don’t want the “balancing act” to be a copout when it comes to my thoughts. I don’t want to fall back onto the “oh it happens,” excuse followed by, “there’s traffic…” or, “that person was really rude,” or, “I’m PMS-ing,” or whatever. The excuses will keep on coming, the frustrating situations will keep arising, but just think…how powerful would it be if I could react with a greater sense of positivity than of negativity no matter the situation? How profoundly moving would it be if we could react with buoyancy, or at least non-attachment, no matter the circumstances? What if we could remain on a level that doesn’t allow the negativity to fully touch us, protected by the diligence of our own beneficial mindset?

I want to be diligent. Gently diligent. Not diligent in a punishing way, but a dedicated way. I believe that committed practice is the only way to really shape a new habit, when the habit is positive. We seem to collect negative habits unconsciously, they creep into our lives without invitation, when we’re blinking or napping or checking our blind spot as we merge. They just suddenly are. We manifested them, but we didn’t watch ourselves do it, we didn’t hope to do it. I know that I recognize these negative habits and then focus on reversing them. I focus on the “bad” habit, label it as such, and then obsess over ridding my life of it. But, as the principle of The Secret suggests, thoughts become things. If we focus on the negative, on what we don’t want, the Law of Attraction will draw that thing closer to us.

Believe it or don’t, that’s up to you, but the core of the concept makes sense. Think of the placebo effect; if someone takes a sugar pill thinking it will heal them, and it does, that proves that the mind has power. The mind can literally heal the body. All potential hokeyness aside, the power of the mind has a literal influence on the physical body. Stress is cancer causing; joy is cell renewing. It’s as simple as that. Stress is toxic; joy is healing. 

Control the mind. Detoxify the body. Heal the soul. 

 

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